A candidate super-Earth planet orbiting near the snow line of Barnard’s star

Ribas, I.; Tuomi, M.; Reiners, A.; Butler, R. P.; Morales, J. C.; Perger, M.; Dreizler, S.; Rodríguez-López, C.; González Hernández, J. I.; Rosich, A.; Feng, F.; Trifonov, T.; Vogt, S. S.; Caballero, J. A.; Hatzes, A.; Herrero, E.; Jeffers, S. V.; Lafarga, M.; Murgas, F.; Nelson, R. P.; Rodríguez, E.; Strachan, J. B. P.; Tal-Or, L.; Teske, J.; Toledo-Padrón, B.; Zechmeister, M.; Quirrenbach, A.; Amado, P. J.; Azzaro, M.; Béjar, V. J. S.; Barnes, J. R.; Berdiñas, Z. M.; Burt, J.; Coleman, G.; Cortés-Contreras, M.; Crane, J.; Engle, S. G.; Guinan, E. F.; Haswell, C. A.; Henning, Th.; Holden, B.; Jenkins, J.; Jones, H. R. A.; Kaminski, A.; Kiraga, M.; Kürster, M.; Lee, M. H.; López-González, M. J.; Montes, D.; Morin, J.; Ofir, A.; Pallé, E.; Rebolo, R.; Reffert, S.; Schweitzer, A.; Seifert, W.; Shectman, S. A.; Staab, D.; Street, R. A.; Suárez Mascareño, A.; Tsapras, Y.; Wang, S. X. and Anglada-Escudé, G. (2018). A candidate super-Earth planet orbiting near the snow line of Barnard’s star. Nature, 563(7731) pp. 365–368.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0677-y

Abstract

Barnard’s star is a red dwarf, and has the largest proper motion (apparent motion across the sky) of all known stars. At a distance of 1.8 parsecs1, it is the closest single star to the Sun; only the three stars in the α Centauri system are closer. Barnard’s star is also among the least magnetically active red dwarfs known2,3 and has an estimated age older than the Solar System. Its properties make it a prime target for planetary searches; various techniques with different sensitivity limits have been used previously, including radial-velocity imaging4,5,6, astrometry7,8 and direct imaging9, but all ultimately led to negative or null results. Here we combine numerous measurements from high-precision radial-velocity instruments, revealing the presence of a low-amplitude periodic signal with a period of 233 days. Independent photometric and spectroscopic monitoring, as well as an analysis of instrumental systematic effects, suggest that this signal is best explained as arising from a planetary companion. The candidate planet around Barnard’s star is a cold super-Earth, with a minimum mass of 3.2 times that of Earth, orbiting near its snow line (the minimum distance from the star at which volatile compounds could condense). The combination of all radial-velocity datasets spanning 20 years of measurements additionally reveals a long-term modulation that could arise from a stellar magnetic-activity cycle or from a more distant planetary object. Because of its proximity to the Sun, the candidate planet has a maximum angular separation of 220 milliarcseconds from Barnard’s star, making it an excellent target for direct imaging and astrometric observations in the future.

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